Hill or city, urban planning cannot be an afterthought

Source– The post is based on the article “Hill or city, urban planning cannot be an afterthought” published in The Hindu on 14th February 2023.

Syllabus: GS1- Urbanisation. GS3- Disaster management

Relevance– Urban planning for disaster resilience

News– Recently, land subsidence took place in Joshimath due to heavy pressure on land and water.

What are the issues faced by urban areas?

Land use planningLand subsidence incidents in hilly urban India are becoming increasingly common. About 12.6% of India’s land area is estimated to be prone to landslides, especially in Sikkim, West Bengal.

According to the National Institute of Disaster Management, Urban policy is making this worse.

Construction in such a landscape is often driven by building bye-laws that ignore local

geological and environmental factors.

Land use planning in India’s Himalayan towns and the Western Ghats is often ill-conceived.It adds to slope instability. As a result, landslide vulnerability has risen.It has been made worse by tunnelling construction that is weakening rock formations.

Flood risks Planned townships are approved, with a distinct lack of concerns for natural hazards. Townships are built on river floodplains.

In Delhi, an estimated 9,350 households live in the Yamuna floodplains. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of March 2022 has highlighted the risk Kolkata faces due to a rise in sea levels.

The combination of poor urban planning and climate change will mean that many of India’s cities could face devastating fooding.

What is the way forward to improve the resilience of urban areas?

Acquiring credible data is the first step toward enhancing urban resilience with regard to land subsidence. The overall landslide risk needs to be mapped at the granular level.

The Geological Survey of India has conducted a national mapping exercise. Urban policymakers need to take this further, with additional detail and localisation.

Areas with high landslide risk should not be allowed to expand large infrastructure. There is a need to reduce human interventions and adhere to carrying capacity.

Flood-proofing India’s cities will require multiple measures. Urban planners will have to step back from filling up water bodies, canals and drains.

The focus should be on enhancing sewerage and stormwater drain networks. Existing sewerage networks need to be reworked and expanded to enable wastewater drainage in low-lying urban geographies.

Rivers that overflow need to be desilted regularly along with a push for coastal walls in areas at risk from sea rise.

Greater spending on flood-resilient architecture like river embankments, flood shelters in coastal

areas and flood warning systems are necessary.

There is a need to protect “blue infra” areas. Examples are places that act as natural sponges for absorbing surface runoff, allowing groundwater to be recharged.

As rainfall patterns and intensity change, urban authorities will need to invest in simulation capacity to determine flooding hotspots and flood risk maps.

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